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Parables Bible Study 11: The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

Title: Parables Bible Study 11: The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

Subject: Repentance and Joy in Heaven

Age: 13+ years

Location: Luke 15:3-10

Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet

Begin the bible study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection.

In Luke's Gospel there is a chapter of parables. These include the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The two introductory verses provide the context for what follows:
"The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'"

Imagine the scandalous nature of such actions! To the religious leaders this was not only scandalous but sinful. Even today such unconventional acts like these would surely raise protest. Note that the Pharisees and Scribes are listening to Jesus, however, the reason they are listening is to find an offense to charge him with.

We can say that a difference exists in the Gospels then between those who listen to Jesus and those who listen in order to obey. We can make a comparison to ourselves in how we "listen" to the words of the Good News. Why are we listening? Are we listening in the hope of finding what we must do, how we must obey Jesus?

The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Now at issue today are the two parables of the Sheep, verses 3 through 7, and the Lost Coin, verses 8 through 10. We'll begin with the parable of the Lost Sheep. The characters are simple to identify. The Shepherd is the Lord and the sheep are the people of God. This is an easily understood parable with an easily understood point. A loving and caring shepherd leaves his flock to seek out and save one lost sheep. When he finds it he is overjoyed and he tells his friend to celebrate this event with him.

The point of God's actions is to seek sinners and invite them into repentance. Recall at the beginning of the Gospel in Matthew 4:17, Jesus preached "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." At the end of the Gospel Luke 24:47 we hear again of repentance, "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."

We must also consider the direction of God in the Old Testament: Ezekiel 18:23, "Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? Says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turn from his evil way that he may live?" Consider also the King's words in psalm 50/51, vv.8-14. This thrust of God to call us to repentance to wash away our sins and turns us towards righteousness is truly the thrust of the Church. Beyond any semblance of promoting religion or a system, etc., the Church's role is to bring about the way of life to show to the people of God the path that brings about light.

We must reconsider our purpose and how vitally important it is; we have the keys to the Kingdom but what does that mean? Back to our parable: it seems the Pharisees and Scribes had missed the point and mistakenly thought God desired the destruction of sinners. This parable affirms the invaluable worth of each human soul.

The Fathers see in this parable a mystical interpretation of the entire scope of our theological history from creation, through the fall, to the incarnation, and its purpose. St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. Gregory of Nanzianzus see the parable in this light. For them, 100 is the perfect number. This perfect number represents those creatures God created. The one that leaves is man/mankind, for it is mankind that falls and is in need of repentance. Note that the 99 are those who have no need of repentance, they are the inhabitants of heaven! Thus the area where the 99 are left is called the desert, for its true inhabitant, humankind has left its inheritance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin
Both parables end with an account of the joy in heaven over the sinner who repents. In both verses 7 and 10, the joy of the shepherds or the women's friends is a symbol of the joy of heaven.

This brings us to the question of angels. These are rational creatures that surround, comprehend, and rejoice in what is accomplished by mortal man. Read the following passages:

  • Psalm 90/91:11
  • Psalm 33/34:7
  • Hebrews 2:14

St. Ambrose writes, "That the angels are rational flocks, and they not unfittingly rejoice because of the redemption of men. Let this also incite us to a just and upright life, that each shall believe that his own conversion to God is pleasing to the angelic choirs, whose protection he should seek. (Treatise on the Gospel of St. Luke, Book 7, 210).

St. Gregory of Nanzianzus writes of these two parables[1]:
It was Christ who, "lit the candle, His own flesh, and swept the house, by cleaning away the sin of the world, and sought for the coin, the Royal Image that was all covered up with passions, and calls together His friends, the Angelic Powers, at the finding of the coin, and makes them sharers of His joy, as He had before made them sharers of the secret of His incarnation." (Second Oration on Pascha, 26).

St. Ambrose's exhortation at the conclusion of the treatment of these parables[2]:
"We are His sheep; let us pray that He will place us amid ‘the waters of His refreshment' (Psalm 22/23:2). ‘We are, I say, His sheep; let us seek of Him ‘a place of pasture.' We are pieces of silver; let us jealously cherish our value. We are children; let us hasten to our Father." (op. cit., No.211)

One last patristic interpretation is that of St. John Chyrsostom, which is a bit more applicable and practical. The lost sheep represents those who have fallen away after accepting the faith. This Lost Sheep is returned to the fold; they are returned by a loving, gentle Jesus who still does not seek to punish them, no matter how far and long they have wandered. Here we all must take note of how the Savior seeks the Lost. The 99 sheep represent those who remained faithful and never left the fold. Thus we have a story that we may return, and a warning that we can not resent those who do stray but return, rather we must rejoice in their victory over sin and the forces of evil. (Letters to the Fallen Theodore, I, 7).

At this time, read the passages once more and allow time for quiet reflection. If there is time, you may have a discussion about these parables.

End the bible study with a prayer.

[1] Archbishop Dimitry, Parables, p. 78
[2] Ibid.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

Click the link to return to the Parables Bible Study page or continue to the next Parables Bible Study session: The Prodigal Son.